20 August 2018

The Scents of Memories

Written by Published in Health & Beauty

Fragrances have exerted a magical influence throughout history, from the use of oud and incense in ancient civilisations to the global brand campaigns of today. Is it any wonder that, as medical herbalist Dr Mariano Spiezia reminds us, there is a potent link between scent and memory

The fresh scent of cut grass, the smell of a field full of wildflowers on a summer’s day and the aroma of morning coffee: all of these smells, along with thousands of others, are instantly recognisable.

More than any other sense, the sense of smell has the ability to trigger emotion and bring up even the oldest memories, hidden in the most ancient part of our brain.

How does your dog smell...?

We all know that animals have an incredible sense of smell. This is because, compared to humans, they have many more smell receptors in a larger olfactory epithelium – a layer of cells in the nasal cavity that picks up scent. A dog can have up to 300 million scent receptors, while humans have just 5 to 6 million. But did you know that humans, according to a study published by the journal Science, can detect one trillion different olfactory stimuli?

When your olfactory receptors are stimulated, they transmit impulses to your brain. This scent pathway is directly connected to the limbic system, the part of the brain that deals with emotions. That’s why our reactions to smell are rarely neutral – we usually either like or dislike a smell. Imagine throwing a stone into a pond: the initial olfactory impact will cause many ripples, reaching out to other areas of our brain through billions of neuronal connections and producing unpredictable reactions, depending on our stored experiences.

Smell is therefore a direct route to our memories, and can conjure up waves of feeling and emotion in an instant. This applies too in our relationships: between mother and baby, man and woman, family and friends.

A cascade of memories

According to herbal alchemical tradition, natural and organic fragrances keep the ‘soul’ of the flower, allowing it to manifest its subtle energy. It’s this energy that will interact with our physical, emotional and psychological energies, triggering our emotions and producing a cascade of new memories.

It is much better to create new emotions and memories with a pure perfume than with an artificial one.

Why we want to smell nice

Smelling good makes us feel more secure and aware of our inner power to ‘seduce’, first of all ourselves – we become what we think – and then the world around us. This is part of the reason why we want to smell nice: we want to be appreciated, recognised and to leave an imprint of our presence. The first impression in every personal encounter is visual, the second olfactory – how we smell.

Smelling nice is important, but it’s easy to fall into the trap of dousing ourselves in artificial fragrance. Whether it’s a deodorant, perfume or aftershave, chemical scents will harm our balance, well-being and energy.

Natural versus synthetic

There are many studies that indicate the danger of synthetic fragrances in household products. Synthetic fragrances lead to possible asthma, skin reactions, headaches, allergies, changes of mood, and so on, especially in children.

I would strongly avoid sprays and household cleaning products which have a chemical base and added, artificial fragrance.

There are many natural alternatives you can make at home (there are lots of tips online, or try asking your parents or grandparents!). Natural incense sticks, essential oil burners or simply a bunch of fresh flowers will make your house smell gorgeous and will bring a sense of calm.

Many scents – natural and organic – can affect our mood as they interact with our brain, creating relaxation or excitement or just giving a sense of freshness. There are many fragrances we can use, depending on whether we have just adults or also children in the home, on the effect we want to create or the particular sense we want to target.

Effective essences

In most cases, lavender is excellent for calming down after a long working day, or to help children to relax. Citrus scents – orange, lemon, grapefruit – are good to awaken the brain and promote a sense of joie de vivre. Warming scents such as vanilla, ylang-ylang or rose will create an exotic, sensual atmosphere.

One tiny molecule of artificial fragrance might seem to be nothing in the atmosphere, but if there are billions of molecules around us, sprayed by millions of people, the picture changes drastically. It is time to think about our decisions and be more conscious about the impact these artificial fragrances will have, not only on our health but also on the planet where we live.



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